Silent drowning: Myths about swimming dangers


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Parents tend to assume if their children ever have an emergency in the water that they will yell or scream to alert them they are in trouble.

But the reality is, that doesn't usually happen.

Drowning victims are often silent

"They're so busy trying to get that breath, they can't speak," explained Cindi Partee, a swim instructor at the YMCA. 

And that's not all, Partee says the warning signs are often missed by other swimmers. 

Drowning victims sink quickly

"They don't flail," explained Partee. "The body goes into rescue mode, and it's working against them. They just sink."

Video posted of a wave pool at an undisclosed water park shows how quickly someone can get into trouble in the water, and how often no one even realizes or notices the swimmer needs help.


It shows children and teenagers floating on rafts in a wave pool. They either release the raft or flip off it and then begin to drown. Each time, none of the swimmers nearby notices until a lifeguard is pulling the person out of the water.

Many assume if something happens in a crowded pool, someone would notice.  But, crowded pools make it harder to see if someone has drowned.  Working with the YMCA, News4Jax conducted a test to see how difficult it is to see what is happening under the water.

We filled one end of a pool with members of a local swim team and added rafts, pool noodles and toys. Using cameras above the water and underneath, a swimmer pretended to drown.  Standing outside the pool, you could not even see she was sinking to the bottom. To the untrained eye, her drowning could be missed, until it's too late.


Partee said it takes less than half a minute for someone to lose consciousness and begin to drown.

"In the first 10 seconds, their airways close off. They're struggling and going under," Partee said. "Within 20 seconds, they can be out. The average person can hold their breath longer, but they're struggling, so you pretty much got to get them in (to the side of the pool) or the next thing you know, you're giving them rescue breaths instead of them breathing."

Lifeguards at the YMCA are trained to spot swimmers in trouble and pull them out of the water within 20 seconds. They are required to take a 36-hour certification class. They are also required to practice emergency drills, and if they do not complete the drill within 20 seconds, they receive extra training until they can meet the requirement. 

For information on swimming lessons at the YMCA, visit their website at firstcoastymca.org.

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